Frustrated and pissed off at your spouse? Wondering how you’ll get through another stressful, jam-packed holiday season?
Sure you are. We all are. It’s tough enough to stay on top of things during normal times, but how are you supposed to do that during times of high-stress, when you’ve got 65 daily to-dos that need to crossed off before noon?
When the shit hits the fan—as it always does in some form or another—most of us start to feel pretty damn uncomfortable inside. Some people deal with that feeling by getting angry, others by shutting down; some go shopping, or drinking; others dive into work or a giant carton of ice cream. But the thing we all have in common is that in some way or another, we’re all trying to escape, if just for a moment, that yucky feeling.
And when you’re married, that means you’ve got an automatic target in front of you any time something goes awry. Now, I’m not saying we lash out at our spouse on purpose—it’s just plain ‘ole human nature, friend. We’re all just looking for something that will help ease the pain.
But the problem with blaming is that it doesn’t actually solve anything. Sure, I might feel better for 3 seconds after I’ve blamed Ken for our trashed house, but then I start to feel even crappier for ruining his day. Oh my poor, long-suffering spouse.
So how do we get ourselves out of this damn mess?
Well, we take a step back, for starters, and try and figure out what it is we’re really after. What is it we really need, at the most basic level? Is the messy house really what’s sent me over the edge, or could it possibly be a desperate need for kid-free time?
To get to the real root of the problem, and not just take the most obvious, easy out, we need to get quiet. Maybe we go for a walk. Or meditate. Take 5 minutes for ourselves and stare at a wall. Write in a journal.
Once the chaos around us starts to settle down, we’ll begin to be able to figure out what’s truly bothering us.
Maybe you realize what you really need is a little time to yourself after work. Or a night out with your buds. Someone to come in and clean your house—just once!—before the holidays. Maybe you need to go get some exercise and burn off some steam. Or get away from the kids for two hours.
Whatever you need to maintain (or reboot) your sanity, write it down. Write them all down. Keep going, even if your list is giant. You can always whittle it down, don’t worry. And if nothing else, you can just aim for the top one or two things on your list.
These are your non-negotiables.
Now, the second, trickier step is actually asking for what you want.
Which seems like it should be easy, right? I mean, hell, we’re all adults here. Ahem. Sadly, I’ve talked with quite a few folks this week who, just like me, have gotten stuck in that place of not being able to ask for what they wanted. Maybe it’s because they thought their spouse would say no; maybe it’s because they didn’t think they deserved it—whatever it is, denying our non-negotiables sets us up with the same, awful problem. We start to feel like crap because we’re not doing what we need to do for ourselves.
Which means we start lashing out at…bingo!…those we love most. Or we start drinking, smoking or eating our way through the night to get through that yuckiness we’re now feeling inside.
Hey, I’m not judging—I’ve done it all. These past few weeks (which have been a giant mess of caring for my sick mother and trying to balance caretaking with my kids, spouse, etc.), I’ve stepped up my alcohol consumption, started eating like a banshee and spent a shitload of money. It might suck, but it’s human nature, and sadly, none of us are immune to it.
Now, here’s where you think the story’s over, right? Sadly, no. The freakouts don’t stop just because we’ve tried to medicate them, they just keep going. Until you really snap.
Like I did yesterday, right before our friends stopped by for dinner, when I started blaming Ken because I was feeling so stressed out. Beautiful, right? If I’d been more dialed in, I would have realized that I desperately needed some time to myself before they came by, but I wasn’t, and therefore I didn’t. Instead, I started blubbering about not being able to take care of one more human being, and by the way, could we just order a pizza?
Thankfully, my friends were kind enough to look past my giant freakout—which, if you’re friends with me, you learn quickly enough—and we were able to get down to the task at hand, which was relaxing and trying to have a bit of fun.
Anyway, over the course of this ridiculous drama, I finally realized that the other reason I was so nuts was because I hadn’t been writing. For, like, 6 weeks. Which might not make much sense to you, so let me explain. See, nearly every time I get crazy-ungrounded like this, I look up and realize that weeks, if not months, have gone by since I’ve written. It happened when I used to teach college and didn’t have any time for my own work, and it happened after both of my kids were born. So, for the 896th time in my life, I once again realized that writing is one of those things I need to do on a semi-regular basis if I am to remain sane.
Meaning that it’s one of my non-negotiables.
So why was I so damn afraid to ask for it? Because we’d just lost a sitter and Ken was already putting in a ridiculous amount of time with the kids so I could go care for my mom. How could I ask him for anything else when he already had so little time to himself?
Simple. Because if I didn’t, I would turn into a raging Hulk. Oh, wait! I already had!
Sigh. You think I’d have learned this years ago, wouldn’t you? I would’ve thought so, too. But this shit always seems to pop up over and over again until we get it right.
Which is why I finally started writing again today. And now the nice little benefit of taking care of myself is that my family will finally start feeling better, too, if only because they’re not around such a grouch all the time.
Plus, did I tell you how much better my marriage looks when I’m happier? What a surprise.
So, how about you? What is it you need to do to maintain your sanity? What are your non-negotiables?
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This post is dedicated to Sara, who gave me a gorgeous, purse-sized notebook so I’d always be to write; to Rachel, who lent me her Pema Chodron CD when I desperately needed it, and to Mo, who turned me on to Harshada Wagner when I was at the end of my rope. And to everyone else who has saved my ass these past few weeks. I am one lucky chick.